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Tauseef Shahidi


What’s wrong with ThePrint's list of next-gen intellectuals?

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5 months ago
5 months ago
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The very idea itself.

ThePrint has already received a lot of flak on publishing a list of upcoming intellectuals nominated by the fellow senior men of the industry. It has stated that it will continue to update the list as it receives the awaited nominations from the intellectuals who were reached out to but have not responded so far. It’s perhaps entertaining to browse through such a list unless you are competing to be on it. This compilation is also interesting for other reasons: Two of the next-gen intellectuals are older to the veteran who nominated them; there is one person who makes his entry both as a nominee and nominator. Conventionally, such catalogs were mostly reserved for the budding sports or movie stars. But, lately, there has been deluges of such lists for personalities in media, finance, technology, social entrepreneurship and so on, Forbe’s 30 under 30 being a popular example, as the celebrity culture has permeated everywhere. It would be an interesting exercise to see how many of the faces featuring on 30 under 30 are retained on 60 under 60, if they decide to do one, in the future.

The list as well as the choice of listers, both have drawn sharp criticism from the readers and watchers--a lot of them being the young women. The list and its listers are predictable and so is the reproach. The fact that there are no women among the jury, at least so far, is nothing but a manifestation of the status quo; women intellectuals of the old generation get disproportionately less space in the popular discourse than their men counterparts. To be fair to ThePrint, it reached out to several women thinkers who refused to nominate any names. Sincere thanks to these women for acting gracefully and totally outdoing these 'serious' men.

Among the nominees (I wish they had hired Alec Baldwin or Diya Mirza to announce them), there are a handful of women--10 in a list going over 50. I would say the big shots played rather well on the ‘gender’ outswinger, but they could not defend the reverse-swinger of intersectionality (of caste, class, region, religion, sexual orientation, and so on). The rather awake readers of my generation could not possibly have missed this opportunity to call the old guards out for not taking the fair representation of diverse social groups into account while making their suggestions. While this list is definitely skewed towards the usual suspects, I do not necessarily think that ensuring fair representation should be the aim of such a task--not saying that this particular task was right otherwise.

This was not just an unnecessary but a rather unthoughtful exercise ThePrint set out to accomplish. Any such list is bound to be unfair as it would single out only a few names while many more deserve to be part of it. But, that could be said about any curated list for any field. There is an additional real danger to this hideous practice in public affairs. Such a list tends to boost the stature of the mentioned personalities over other equally or probably more deserving intellectuals out there who could not make it to the list due to lack of their fame or friends in the industry. This will not only widen the limelight between the two set but will eventually make certain opinions count more than the others.

Friedrich Hayek, in his speech at Nobel Banquet, said something along the similar lines about the economists getting the Nobel Prize, which I think is extendable to the instance of public intellectuals receiving unwanted acclaim. “It is that the Nobel Prize confers on an individual an authority which in economics no man ought to possess. This does not matter in the natural sciences. Here the influence exercised by an individual is chiefly an influence on his fellow experts; and they will soon cut him down to size if he exceeds his competence. But the influence of the economist that mainly matters is an influence over laymen: politicians, journalists, civil servants and the public generally.”

The list to me looks like a public announcement of the entry of new members to the club by its retiring members. This ‘earned’ seat on the table is only slated to climax with celebrity status. The celebrity culture is something which we can probably live within our cinema, but this could prove to be costly, or even disastrous, for our public discourse. Such elite club membership is detrimental to the ideal of democracy of thoughts and views. We want our so-called public intellectuals to operate free of any external influences, including their club membership and fan following. Nothing should stop them from airing their original thought, if they have any, notwithstanding how unpopular it is. The absence of such independence would only lead to further corruption of thought among these intellectuals, which they have been accused of numerous times in the recent past.

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